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RespectAbility Unveils #PwDsVote Disability Questionnaire for Senate and Gubernatorial Candidates

Questions Focus on Issues Relating to Employment and Stigma

Image of two people voting - one blind and one in a wheelchair
America has 56 million people with disabilities, comprising the largest minority group in America, and the only one that, due to an accident or illness, anyone can join at any time.

Washington, Aug. 7 – Last winter, RespectAbility sent the #PwDsVote Presidential Campaign Questionnaire to all of the presidential candidates. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton responded in full. While several Republican primary candidates did, Republican nominee Donald Trump’s campaign has yet to return any answers to the questionnaire.

Now RespectAbility has adapted the questionnaire for down-ballot races, focusing on open and competitive senate and gubernatorial races. This gives the disability community an opportunity to make a difference by contacting these candidates and urging them to complete the questionnaire. RespectAbility has provided the candidates’ email addresses and Twitter handles for people to do so. They are below.

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Celebrating ADA on the Sidelines of the DNC

Gov. Jack Markell wearing a gray suit talking behind a podium with the text: #ABLE2WORK #ADA26
Gov. Jack Markell (D-DE) / Photo via AUCD

Philadelphia, July 31 – Gathered in the city of brotherly love, more than a hundred disability activists celebrated the twenty-sixth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on Tuesday.

Current and former officials touted the importance of the ADA and focused specifically on disability employment and economic empowerment for people with disabilities.

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell talked about making employment for people with disabilities his platform while leading the National Governors’ Association – something he said other governors questioned.

“But I knew something: that when we focus on the ability rather than the disability, it’s amazing what we can accomplish together,” the governor said. “I also knew that in a world where Democrats and Republicans so often cannot find common ground, that this was an issue where we would find a way to work together.”

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Clinton Shines Spotlight on Disability Issues

Hillary Clinton standing behind podium, speakingPhiladelphia, July 30 — When Hillary Clinton took to the stage the final night of the Democratic National Convention, several disability activists had one question – will she include people with disabilities in a meaningful way in her speech?

The convention already had touched on disability issues – from Anastasia Somoza, a young woman with cerebral palsy delivering a speech Monday, and Sen. Tom Harkin highlighting the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on Tuesday to discussions on mental illness and drug addiction and speakers such as Rep. Gabby Giffords and Rep. Tammy Duckworth addressing the convention.

Clinton spoke at length about her early exposure to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities while working with the Children’s Defense Fund, “going door to door…on behalf of children with disabilities who were denied the chance to go to school.”

While she has touted her work with the Children’s Defense Fund on countless occasions, Clinton went further this time.

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Updated DNC Platform Most Inclusive of People with Disabilities Ever

2016 DNCC Logo - text include 2016 DNCC Philadelphia, with liberty bell and Philadelphia skyline in backgroundPhiladelphia, July 29 – As the Democratic National Convention comes to a close, the disability community is celebrating a victory in the final DNC platform as important additions were added in the eleventh hour.

“This platform incorporates our community, our values, our issues and aspirations like never before,” stated Disability Action for Hillary, a volunteer group of people with disabilities working to elect Clinton to the presidency. “With over 30 distinct mentions of disability, ensuring the rights and opportunities of people with disabilities has moved from a section of the platform to a pervasive value infusing it.”

The platform now has 35 mentions of disability, up from 17 in a draft earlier this month.

“That has NEVER happened before by either party,” disability advocate and former Rep. Tony Coelho said. “We are very appreciative of the Platform Committee working with us to get this done.”

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America: Land of Opportunity for People with Disabilities

Tammy Duckworth walking on stage with her prosthetic legs, wearing a black suit with American flag in background
U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) on the fourth day of the DNC (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Philadelphia, July 29 – Rep. Tammy Duckworth offered a simple but powerful message of the American spirit and inclusion on the last night of the Democratic National Convention.

“I worked hard, but I had a lot of help from my community and country,” she said. “My story is not unique. It’s a story about why this country is the greatest nation on earth.”

Duckworth represents multiple groups who often are overlooked in American politics. She is the first Thai American to be elected to U.S. Congress, as well as the first woman with a disability to become a member of the House of Representatives in 2012.

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Giffords Serves as Role Model for People with Disabilities

Image of Gabby Giffords speaking behind podium with husband Mark  Kelly standing next to herPhiladelphia, July 28 – When Gabrielle Giffords took the stage with her husband, Mark Kelly, they electrified the audience.

Speaking on the third night of the Democratic National Convention, Giffords used her time to both call attention to the rising gun violence in the country and give a rousing endorsement of Hillary Clinton.

“Hillary is tough. Hillary is courageous. She will fight to make our families safer. In the White House, she will stand up to the gun lobby,” said Giffords, who served as a congresswoman from 2006 to 2012.

In 2011, Giffords was the victim of an attempted assassination. Jared Lee Loughner shot Giffords in the head and killed six others. A year later while still receiving physical, occupational and speech therapy following the severe brain injury, Giffords resigned from Congress.

Giffords is more than the standard disability narrative: not a subject for pity but an icon of strength, perseverance and personal progress. She serves as role model for other people with disabilities can carry an agenda.

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Growing Disability Council Highlights Importance of 400 Delegates with Disabilities

Text: The Disability Vote Counts! Disability Action for Hillary, with HRC shown in sign language
These pins showing HRC in sign language were given out at the Disability Council meeting on Monday.

Philadelphia, July 27 – With 400 delegates self-disclosing a disability, the Disability Council is growing. Along with Disability Action for Hillary, the Council is energizing Americans with disabilities during the Democratic National Convention.

“Our goal is to get as many people all over the country involved with the campaign,” former California Rep. Tony Coelho said at the first meeting on Monday. “It is important for our community that everyone knows that we are committed, we are involved and we can make a difference in this election.”

According to word searches compiled by The New York Times, the word disability did not even register on the word clouds during the 2012 conventions by either party. But that has changed with the 2016 cycle.

In addition, 400 delegates with disabilities are attending the DNC, which is a 35-percent growth since 2012.

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Harkin Highlights ADA at DNC in Show of Disability Inclusion, Pushes for Competitive Integrated Employment

Harkin signing America while on DNC stage
Sen. Harkin teaching DNC attendees how to sign “America”

Philadelphia, July 27 – The second night of the DNC began with a tribute to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was celebrating its 26 years since it was signed into law. In doing so, it answered some disability activists’ criticisms that while the DNC has highlighted and included people with disabilities such as Anastasia Somoza on the first night, there had been little substantive conversation regarding disability issues on the main stage.

“We are a better nation because of the ADA. But we still have a way to go to build a truly inclusive America,” former Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin said. “When, 26 years later, 70 percent of adults with disabilities aren’t in the workforce, it’s time to take action. That’s why Hillary Clinton wants to ensure people with disabilities are judged by their potential and have the tools to secure competitive integrated employment.”

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Frank Discussion on Mental Illness, Drug Addiction at DNC

head shot of Pam LivengoodPhiladelphia, July 26 – The first night of the DNC had a section focusing on “Combating Substance Abuse” featuring New Hampshire mother, Pam Livengood, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and singer-songwriter Demi Lovato.

Livengood, a Keene, New Hampshire resident whose daughter became addicted to pain medication following the birth of her son, Francis, articulated to the audience that “[addiction] does not discriminate against age, race, gender or income. It affects all of us.”

Facing the possibility of her grandson being turned over to child services, Livengood and her husband – who is on disability – decided to raise Francis until his parents were able to receive the treatment they needed to recover.

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Disability Rights Advocate Anastasia Somoza Takes Center Stage at DNC

Anastasia Somoza seated in her wheelchair wearing a white lace dress on the DNC stagePhiladelphia, July 26 – Following a video which highlighted what many see as Donald Trump’s mockery of a disabled New York Times reporter, disability activist Anastasia Somoza rolled onto the DNC stage in her power wheelchair and spoke about her friendship with Hillary Clinton and the Clinton family, a relationship which has lasted more than two decades.

Somoza, who, along with her twin sister, was born with cerebral palsy, first met the Clintons at nine years old. After being invited to a town hall meeting for kids, she boldly asked then President Bill Clinton why her sister, who is non-speaking, could not be in a regular classroom like Anastasia was. Her chat with the president kicked off a flurry of media coverage and her family worked with the Clintons to advance equal, inclusive education as well as healthcare for people with disabilities.

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